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MPs condemn "intolerable" delay to Waterloo International conversion

Opposition MPs have criticised the Government for not making better plans to reopen the five former Eurostar platforms at Waterloo for use by domestic trains.

Waterloo International concourse
The international concourse after the departure of the last train in November. The area has now been stripped of fixtures and fittings and boarded up.

"Most of my constituents who commute into Waterloo had assumed that, by the time the international terminal there was closed, a clear plan would be in place for its re-utilisation," Christopher Chope, Tory MP for Christchurch in Dorset, told the Commons last week.

"It has now emerged that that is far from being the case. The decision to move the terminal from Waterloo international to St Pancras was first taken in 1994. The Government have therefore had about 13 years' planning time in which to work out what would happen to the Waterloo international terminal when it was vacated by London and Continental Railways and the Eurostar services."

Chope asked railways minister Tom Harris to "explain why we have the mere prospect of having one of those platforms opened for domestic services by the end of 2008 and no prospect whatever of any of the others being available for such services in the foreseeable future."

He also called on the Government to "apologise to the people of London and others who use Waterloo for the fact that they have already wasted valuable years with their indecision."

Wimbledon MP Stephen Hammond asked: "If the reason for the delay is an ambitious plan for Waterloo, when will it be revealed? What is it? What will it cost? Is the ambitious plan that the Minister mentions merely a fig leaf to cover the embarrassment of the Government and Network Rail for not having a plan to use all the five platforms immediately on decommissioning?"

He continued: "The last cross-channel train has pulled out of Waterloo international and there is an eerie void where it once hummed with activity. That void must be filled."

Tory MP for Castle Point Bob Spink raised the impact of the redevelopment of Waterloo International on the local community: "I am surprised that no one has mentioned the wider societal and regeneration benefits ... the part of the South Bank in question, and Waterloo, need regeneration. The amendment would benefit not only commuters but that whole area of London."

Railways minister Tom Harris confirmed to MPs that ownership of Waterloo international terminal is to be transferred to the Department for Transport in March this year when work will begin to convert platform 20 for domestic services from December.

Harris went on to outline the longer-term strategy: "The department's proposal would see services being shuffled across the existing station, with the Windsor services operating into and out of Waterloo international. That would allow the other lengthened commuter services to access longer platforms within the main Waterloo train shed. Clearly, work is already in hand to implement the Government's plans for Waterloo international to be redeployed for domestic services."

Pressed for a timetable for the reopening of all five former Eurostar platforms, the minister said: "I expect the platforms to be in service by 2014."

Christopher Chope replied: "Between now and 2014 we will be spending 500,000-plus a year on mothballing them, which is absolutely intolerable."

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